Benjamin Cawley gave little thought to playing soccer while he performed missionary work. He spent his time spreading Christianity, not splitting goalposts.
Every morning, he awoke at 6. He studied scripture and taught the gospel.
The mission trip to Puerto Rico from 2001-2003 gave Cawley a chance to mature. After all, he had none of the everyday distractions - no television, no newspapers, no magazines. He had little contact with his parents: he called home twice a year, once on Mother's Day, once on Christmas.
"I grew as a person and learned who I really was," he said. "Being in the service of others."
Now, he is in the service of his USC Aiken teammates. And he's not alone. Benjamin is the eldest of three Cawley brothers playing soccer for the Pacers this season.
The trio from Savannah, Ga., is having quite an impact this season. Sophomore defender Joseph scored two game-winning goals to start the season. Freshman forward Matthew leads the team with two assists. Benjamin, a junior defender and co-captain, provides on-field leadership.
The Cawleys - one of three sets of brothers playing for the Pacers, including Georgi and Plaven Peev and Matthew and Stephen Martin - have helped USC Aiken to a 3-2-1 record after an 0-11 mark in 2003.
"They get along with everybody, and we have a diverse group," coach Ike Ofoje said. "On the field, they work really hard. And it shows in their play."
The Cawleys, who have two other brothers and two sisters, began playing soccer and baseball at a young age - Benjamin started when he was 4. The family participated in backyard games of football, basketball and baseball. But the three boys became hooked on soccer, going to camps and playing on travel squads.
Benjamin, 23, arrived at USC Aiken in 2000 and played one year. After his freshman season, he submitted his paperwork for voluntary mission work to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Then he received his call for a two-year trip to Puerto Rico. He traded in his soccer jersey for a uniform of white shirts and dark slacks, which he washed on Mondays.
"I knew I'd have to give up soccer, and pretty much everything, for two years," he said.
Matthew and Joseph now are waiting on their missions from God. Matthew plans to submit his paperwork next summer; Joseph will wait until after he graduates.
This may be their only season together playing collegiate soccer.
"Most people don't get an opportunity to play with their brothers or sisters in any sport," Joseph said. "You can learn from them and gain more experience playing. It can give you insight on what you need to work on."
This is how the three brothers got together for this season. Benjamin returned to USC Aiken last summer and he was joined by Joseph, who transferred in from Hillsborough (Fla.) Community College after spending a year at Brewton-Parker. He sat out last season because of too few credit hours.
Meanwhile, 18-year-old Matthew didn't have USC Aiken on his radar while playing high school ball. Then he suffered a broken leg. With limited options, he chose to join his brothers.
"With them, they bring a sense of security," Matthew said.
The Cawley name spread around campus after the season's first two games, when Joseph scored both overtime goals.
"I was just in the right place at the right time," he said.
"We call him Mr. Clutch," Benjamin added.
USC Aiken hasn't had many clutch players the past two seasons. But this year is different, in numbers alone. The Pacers are 30 deep after 11 played on last year's squad.
With that many players and that many different attitudes, Ofoje expected to have his hands full. But not with the Cawleys.
"That's three people I don't have to worry about," he said. "I don't have the problems some coaches have when you have this mix."
The Cawleys make Ofoje's life easier because they try to model their game after their religion. Benjamin encourages clean play from his teammates. And he tries to keep his mouth shut.
"It's psychological. I don't like to trash talk because it takes you out of your game," he said.
Benjamin's leadership? A result of the two years he spent doing mission work, thousands of miles from soccer.
"It was the best experience I've had," he said.
Reach Chris Gay at (706) 823-3645 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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